Songkran Festival - 2001
It is here, on Patphong Road - the sleaziest part of Bangkok - where one appears to find the best imitations of home. Let me explain:
It was the final night of the Songkran festival - the Thai New Year - that was an auspicious occasion for all Thai people, as it held highly religious as well as cultural importance, and a relief for all from the normal stresses of work and school. It was also a treat for foreigners, because they were able to see the Thai people at the height of festivities. This year Silom Road - one of the main roads that ran through the central part of Bangkok - was closed down as a promenade. This was part of the government's way of attracting tourists to spend their money and at the same time promoting Thai culture. It was a bit of a joke, though, because Silom Road was famous not really for its display of native Thai culture, but for its glittering nightlife. We took the BTS Skytrain that ran through the city, to Silom station, and worked our way into the crowded streets. We walked down four or five blocks, stopped every few minutes by tourists asking for directions, or hawkers taking us for tourists, trying to sell us cheap or pirated products at outrageous prices. We finally reached a small side street - the infamous Patphong Road. It was difficult to walk; both sides of the road, as well as down the centre, were lined with rows of carts and stands. Some were with coverings, some without; all were lit with bright neon lights. The artificial lights contrasted with the night sky, which, surprisingly, was black, rather than grey from the dust and pollution of the city. They sold everything from lingerie to CDs to perfume and jewellery. Streams of nameless people flowed in both directions. The general sounds were of bargaining tourists and hawkers. Occasionally, loud blaring music came through doors of buildings, also nameless, whose windows were blackened, but whose sounds and streams of suspicious looking people walking in and out of it betrayed the secret and debauched pleasures within. Rough workers - who could not afford the sinful pleasures - hung around outside, undressing you with their eyes as you passed. Their gaze seemed to pulsate with an energy that beat in time to your ever-quickening step and heartbeat and send shivers down your spine. Finally we reached our destination. It was a simple building with a thick wooden door, no windows, and a simple sign swinging above that told its name - Mitzu's. Once inside, we enter another world. We were led up a heavy wooden staircase to our table on the second floor. The tablecloth was a checkered red and white. On the walls were old posters of advertisements from the 50's, many from Japan and Korea, and some from the States. The smell of warm food and the sound of sizzling steaks drifted through the air. High on the walls, every few metres' distance, were small potted plants, woven wine baskets, and native handicrafts from various parts of Asia. The place was dimly lit, in the background was romantic and slow 50's music, the waiters and waitresses were smiling and courteous, and the wooden decorating created a certain heaviness that contributed to the feeling of home. The general atmosphere eased a little the agitation and uneasiness I had from walking through the streets. While waiting for the meal, I wandered about the room. It was then I looked out the window on the side of the restaurant. The view was of the street below, cluttered with people and litter, and the dirty and irregularly shaped rooftops that seemed to extend to the ends of the city. Turning around, it was as if I had been awakened from a dream, and only then I realised that the brick-patterned walls were only wallpaper, and the dim yellow lighting was from light bulbs, not candles, and the 50's music was actually in Japanese! As I walked back to the table I laughed softly at myself, and noticed my dad looking at me from across the table, wondering at my private joke. "Nothing," I said, and sitting down, enjoyed my meal.